KURSK: 14 BODIES RECOVERED

Divers have pulled a total of 14 bodies from the sunken Kursk nuclear submarine, Russia's navy said Monday, as sources disclosed that the deep-sea operation could be wrapped up prematurely. "There is a good chance that the operation will end Wednesday," a Northern Fleet source said under condition of anonymity. Twenty-three of the 118 sailors who perished on board Kursk are known to have fled to the rear ninth portion of the craft, where they struggled for hours - or possibly days - to survive after two blasts sunk Russia's most modern nuclear sub on August 12. A decision has already been reached not to enter other segments of the Kursk because they have been made impenetrable by damage suffered in the accident, a source at this Arctic naval base told AFP. Russian divers worked around the clock Sunday on the Kursk, entering the ninth compartment through a hole cut in the neighboring section. They raised 10 bodies over the weekend, which, in addition to those discovered last week, brings the total to 14, an official at the Northern Fleet base in Severomorsk told AFP on condition of anonymity. The corpses are being stored aboard the Regalia diving platform because storms have made it impossible to transport them ashore. Once in the submarine, divers have to navigate their way in pitch darkness, helped only by flashlights on their helmets, while battling strong undercurrents whipping the Arctic waters. They had at one point begun piercing a new hole to allow direct access to compartment nine, but those efforts have since been halted, the navy source said. Floating debris which had previously settled but has now come up due to waves made by rescue divers was making their progress that much more difficult, the navy sources said. A note found on the body of one Kursk officer, Dmitry Kolesnikov, revealed last Wednesday that at least 23 people had survived the initial blasts which sank the boat. Navy analysts have since suggested they did so because the sailors were certain that all others at the front of the craft had been killed by the blasts, and that they could survive only by trying to surface through the rear emergency hatch. They were unable to do so. The navy has been yet unable to explain why. Experts had predicted that, at most, 35 bodies could be recovered as little could remain of a crew that perished when a blast equivalent to some five tonnes of TNT tore through the craft. The secretary of Russia's Security Council, Sergei Ivanov, said in London Monday that the causes of the Kursk tragedy will only be known when the vessel is brought to the surface, according to the Ria Novosti news agency. Ivanov added that such an operation could take place next year, AFP reports.